Turtle Soup: A Lesson in Non-Interference

We were an irrefutable Soul clump, a group of spiritual adventurers searching for a way to touch the hem of God. Every other month or so, we would gather from various New York State cities and towns to meet at a friend’s home on the Hudson River.
What was once a way station for passing cargo boats was now a romantic 200-year-old stone cottage situated immediately on the banks of the wide waterway. The back of the house was nestled into a wild, wooded area. It was a perfect setting for our long, esoteric discussions held over endless pots of mint tea and an occasional bottle of wine.
One fragrant spring morning, after a particularly elevating discourse, we decided to venture to a nearby town for lunch. We drove along a stretch of country road bordered on either side by tall grasses. Suzie, her pale blue eyes large and watery, called out that a tortoise had just emerged from the grasses on our right side. Following her pointing finger, we spotted it, bobbing head and all, slowly making its way across the gravelly edge of the road. Suzie was clearly distraught. “It’ll get hit by a car! We gotta stop and do something! Please, let’s stop”
Our spiritual conversations had put us in a loving-all-life mode. Of course, we would stop and help the tortoise. How could we do otherwise? Unfortunately, while our love and compassion may have been plentiful, our talk had not increased our wisdom by much. Our encounter with the creature would bring a startling realization into sharp focus for our little group of God-seekers.
There were six of us encircling the poor thing, its head now withdrawn into his shell and its body motionless. The resident intellectual in our group devised a plan. “I think that two of us, er, one on each side, you know, lifting by the shell, should simply carry him across the road.” Several people nodded. “And someone needs to watch for any traffic that might come along. This will be a slow walk...he looks mighty heavy.”
“Do turtles bite?” I had to ask, my practicality getting the best of me. My question was ignored; perhaps because no one knew the answer.
Just then, a red pickup truck pulled off the road a few yards ahead of where we stood. The driver opened his door, got out, slammed the door closed again and sauntered toward us. He flipped a cigarette into the grasses. My eyes followed the flight of the cigarette and then came back to the sun-wrinkled face under the green John Deere cap. I didn’t like the feel of this.
“That your turtle?” he inquired.
Some of us mumbled inane phrases like, “Well, no...not really...it’s a wild turtle.” Our chests were puffing up a bit with the thought of the good deed we were about to perform. Should we explain our do-good plan to the stranger?
There was no opportunity. He reached into our circle and grabbed our new friend by the tail, and in the wink of an eye, hurled the turtle into the back of his pickup. It made a sickening thud as it slid across the bottom and hit the inside wall of the truck bed. We were all too stunned to speak.
The man moved around to the driver’s side and opened his door. “Thanks, thanks a lot,” he called back at us, “I just love turtle soup.”
There we stood, six fools, still in a circle, heads down, eyes staring at the now vacant area at our feet. Suzie was the first to speak, “If we’d left the turtle alone, the man probably would have driven right by it.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “We were out here like a big road sign that read Fresh Turtle.”
The others nodded in agreement. Life had taught us a lesson that all our elevated talk never brought us close to understanding. While it seemed like a good and righteous thing to do—help a lone turtle make it to the other side of the road—there are times when life is better left to its own devices. The tacit, universal law of non-interference cannot be broken without consequences. The turtle paid for our lesson with its life.
So does that mean that we should cross good deeds off the list of things to do while seeking God? That seems very much in opposition to the loving-all-life theme. The puzzle is solved by one word: discretion. No, wait, a better word has come to mind: knowingness—the knowingness that comes from Soul, the home of the would-be saint. Learn to stop, look, and listen from the Soul point of view before stepping into what may be better off left alone.
Always on the look-out for the plus factor in any experience, I looked up “turtle” in one of my animal symbol books when I returned home. In one section of the chapter’s text on turtles it noted: “If a turtle has shown up, you may need to ask yourself some questions. Are you not seeing what you should? Are you not hearing what you should? Are you or those around you not using discrimination?”1
How’s that for a double whammy? I get an experience with a live turtle that points out my lack of discrimination followed by words that support the lesson at hand via turtle symbolism. If only the poor turtle in question...
Life teaches. Are we willing students?

1. Ted Andrews, Animal-Speak, (Llewellyn Publication 1993)

Copyright 2008

Author's Bio: 

Jo Leonard is a spiritual adventurer. Her passion in life is sharing the knowledge she has garnered after a lifetime of searching for God. This story is an excerpt from her book, A Would Be Saint, available on Amazon.com or through her website at www.jeleonard.com You are most welcome to visit her website and blog and join in the journey.